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The Importance of Self-Exams in Identifying Breast Cancer

Many of us have heard the reminder to perform breast self-checks at home. Despite all we know about breast cancer, this simple preventative measure often slips by the wayside without the conscious decision to keep it in the forefront of our minds. Self-exams should become a normalized part of our regular routine. Just as we are sure to keep up with tasks like vehicle maintenance, hair appointments, and weekly brunch with friends, we must prioritize acts of self-care and prevention. It is also important to note that while breast cancer is most common in women, it can also occur in men. Therefore, regular breast examinations are important for everyone.

What is a self-exam?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “a breast self-exam for breast awareness is an inspection of your breasts that you do on your own.” This involves checking the breast tissue physically and visually, to identify or rule out any changes to the look and feel of your breasts.

Why are self-exams so important?

You know your breasts best. Remaining familiar with your body is an essential part of prevention. When our body gives us signs that something is changing, it is easier to identify those changes if we have a baseline to refer to. Knowing what your breasts normally look and feel like will make it easier to identify when something has changed.

It is also important to note that breasts change as our hormones fluctuate. Therefore, know what feels ‘normal” at varying times during hormonal cycles. While self-exams are not the most accurate way to identify breast cancer, they are an important, additional line of defense for the time in between seeing a medical provider for mammograms and screenings.

How do I perform a self-exam?

Breast self-exams can be done while lying down or while standing with a raised arm. Use the opposite hand to inspect the breast while moving in a circular motion, up and down, and outward from the nipple. You should also inspect your breasts visually in the mirror to note changes such as dimpled skin, abnormal pain, or nipple discharge. For more complete instructions on how to perform a self-exam, download our Self Exam Guide here.

What should I do if I notice changes?

Be sure to report any unexplained changes in your breasts to your medical provider as soon as possible so that they can conduct the proper screenings and help you determine the best course of action. If you’re uninsured or underinsured, live in the US Virgin Islands, and need help getting a mammogram or other breast health services, including breast biopsies and pathology reports, please reach out to us here.

While we cannot control everything that occurs in our body, we can use its signals to better protect and advocate for our care. The YAG Foundation is passionate about providing resources and support while spreading awareness and education to help as many as possible in the fight against breast cancer.


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